Many people assume that all leaders have the ability to influence others by virtue of their position. This is not always true.
You can be in a leadership role, yet lack influencing skills. Conversely, you can greatly influence others without being a formal leader.
VitalSmarts includes information on their website that outlines the top reasons why leaders lack influence. This post will recap the main points for each of these five reasons. I will add my own thoughts to those of the authors.
(Note: These concepts are based on the best-selling book Influencer. I have found the model that the authors propose around the six sources of influence to be practical – as well as easy to understand and apply).
Reasons Why Leaders Lack Influence
1. Leaders think it’s not their job.
Most leaders spend very little time consciously influencing others. They believe that their primary job is to come up with big ideas and then to implement them.
The key thought here is having a conscious effort to influence others. Whether they intend to do it or not, the actions of those in leadership positions have the potential to influence others. What rarely happens is for the leader to develop a strategic action plan for how to influence their employees on the vital behaviors that they desire. The assumption by many leaders is that if we give people a direction and the resources they need, then good things will happen.
I used to work for a manager who clearly had this mindset. He became frustrated when much of his organization repeatedly performed work in ways that were counter to his preferred approach. Yet, he never asked himself how he might influence some of the employees so that they would become more aligned and working on the right things.
What is your reason for either aspiring to be a leader or wanting to be more effective as a leader?
Perhaps you are motivated by the potential rewards (compensation and recognition) that come from additional responsibility. You may decide that developing stronger leadership skills is part of an overall professional development plan.
Alternatively, you may believe that a leadership role is part of a central purpose in your life. It may be important to you as part of a personal identity. You may be driven by a sense of obligation to serve others in some leadership capacity.
In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors tested the hypothesis that potential leaders with a combination of motives were the most committed and highest performing. Their findings were somewhat surprising.
What words would describe the relationship with your manager or supervisor? Would you use words like subservient, directed, chain-of-command, or authoritative? If so, it is unlikely that you are providing the greatest value to either your boss or the organization as a whole. It could be that you don’t know how to effectively manage up.
In their recent book Influencing Up, David Bradford and Allan Cohen advocate that employees have greater capacity to influence their boss than they might believe. Their contention is that powerful people need powerful direct reports. More specifically, leaders need people who take initiative and get things done. They also contend that leaders need direct reports who are willing to speak truth-to-power in a way that is respectful. So how can direct reports manage up more effectively? It starts with understanding how to be more influential with their manager.
A common view is that the work required to shift the mindset of any large organization is largely the responsibility of leadership. To be sure, the senior leaders of the organization are accountable for setting the vision and supporting it by what they say and do. Unfortunately, many leaders approach this challenge by delivering a message via well-written power point slides to the masses. The assumption is that all they need to do is explain what the company is about and how everyone should be aligned to be successful. And perhaps for a short while this strategy results in an uptick in the “hoped-for” behaviors.
But it does not last. Soon enough, most of the employees slip back into their comfort zone. They see no reason to change anything. “After all,” they think, “This too shall pass. If I wait long enough, someone else will come along with a different flavor-of-the month. Maybe that one will taste better.”
There are many reasons for failing to get an entire organization aligned and to accept a new way of thinking and acting. I will focus on a single consideration.
We accept change at different rates
Everett Rogers published his theory on the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. The book (now in its fifth edition) says that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. The innovation or idea must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an innovation or idea reaches critical mass. The people in any social system who are exposed to the new idea can be placed in segments, depending upon their willingness to adopt the new idea or accept change. Rogers named five categories of “adopters” : Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. These categories are depicted in this graphic.